Adapting to a new team and a different style of play can be a challenge for any athlete. But for senior forward and exercise science major Elliot Collier, it was an opportunity to thrive.
Since his first year at Loyola in 2014, Collier has consistently been the biggest offensive threat for the Ramblers and a force in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC). Through eight games of the 2017 season, Collier is tied for the team lead in goals and tied for second on the team in assists with two of each.
The transition from playing for the Hamilton Wanderers Association Football Club — in his home country of New Zealand — to the tougher, faster-paced American collegiate style and the challenge of learning a new position didn’t stop Collier. He led the team in goals his first season as a Rambler and went on to earn second team all-MVC honors.
“I wouldn’t say [we played] a different style [in New Zealand], but it’s a different level over here [and] a different pace of game,” Collier said. “I played more inside rather than a true winger, but it’s good to be able to mix up the game and be able to play different positions and whatever the game asks for.”
In 2014, Collier told The Phoenix he wanted to come to the United States to play soccer at a higher level and head coach Neil Jones, also from New Zealand, provided the connections.
“I’m loving every minute of it,” Collier said in 2014. “It’s great to go to the next level, compared to back home. Got to be fitter and faster and stronger over here, and that’s only going to benefit me in the long run.”
The Ramblers have come to rely on Collier as a leader in the offensive part of the field, according to redshirt junior defender Grant Stoneman.
“He’s certainly our guy in attacking up the field,” Stoneman said. “We look to him to make a play at the end of a game when we need it. At the end of the day he’s just our leader up front.”
The prolific stats of the 6-foot-4-inch Kiwi would indicate the markings of a central back rather than an offensive specialist. But Collier has been offensive-minded his entire career.
“I started out as a center-mid just because I was good on the ball and just could run with the ball,” Collier said. “I was always an attacking player and moved out wide once I got older, played up top a little bit as well … I’ve always been an offensive player.”
Collier draws his inspiration from another tall soccer player, the 6-foot-1-inch Cristiano Ronaldo. Most of the world’s best offensive players are short, like Paris Saint Germain’s Neymar, who broke the world record for most expensive earning, 515,000 euros per week, standing at 5-foot-9-inches; and, Lionel Messi, Barcelona’s long time star and arguably the best player in the world, at a tiny 5-foot-7-inches.
“I was a huge [Manchester] United fan, especially when Ronaldo first came to United, so I tried to play like Ronaldo when I was younger,” Collier said.
Stoneman, who has defended Collier in practice for his whole collegiate career, understands how his height, build and foot skills help him when attacking.
“Playing him in practice it’s tough. I usually mark him because he’s tall, fast [and] lanky so it’s pretty hard to get a tackle on him,” Stoneman said. “He can get away from anything, he usually knows how to get out of any situation.”
Offensively, the numbers Collier has put up for the Ramblers have contributed greatly to the success of the team, but the development of an all-around game has been an integral part of Collier’s own Loyola career thus far.
“My game has developed a lot, I think. Back in New Zealand, I didn’t really have any emphasis on being a part of a defensive unit as an offensive player,” Collier said. “But … a huge part of college soccer is being able to defend anywhere on the field, so I think defensively my game has improved a lot, but then offensively, as well, I think getting in line and getting service has been a huge part of what we do at Loyola. So that’s definitely something that’s developed.”
Collier’s consistent presence in the box scores of Loyola’s games has made him a leader for the team. Now, in his senior year, younger players look up to Collier, according to Stoneman.
“I know that all the guys kind of look up to him because he’s been here for a long time,” Stoneman said. “He’s got a lot of games under his belt, so he’s the captain up front.”
The Ramblers have a record of 4-4, but only one of those losses has been by more than one goal.
“I mean we’ve had a tough last week and a half, results wise we outplayed two teams and ended up losing to them,” Collier said. “We just gotta keep working and keep trusting the process … There’s plenty of games left, plenty of season left, [we] just gotta keep working towards the MVC tournament.”
Collier and the Ramblers are scheduled to continue their season on Sept. 30 against the University of Central Arkansas at 7 p.m. at Loyola Soccer Park.